Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev, from the Palace of Nations to the Kazakh autocracy

He was for two years, from 2011 to 2013, the Director General of the UN in Geneva and Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament at the Palais des Nations. A post he had left impromptu in a few days to respond to the wish of the then Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to appoint him president of the Senate.

The UN boss at the time, Ban Ki-moon, had preferred it to two European candidates. Perceived at the time as a fine diplomat, trained at the Moscow State Institute in the days of the USSR and at the Diplomatic Academy of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Leonid Brezhnev, this doctor in political science spent a part of the 1980s at the USSR Embassy in Beijing. He studied at the Beijing Language Institute during the Tiananmen crackdown. He is fluent in Mandarin.

Read the article by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev: Global governance renews itself in Geneva

“Coup attempt”

Behind this relatively smooth profile, the current president of Kazakhstan, 68, who succeeded satrap Nazarbayev in 2019, has shown a much less diplomatic face since the start of the violent riots that broke out in the country from January 2. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev even surprised the hushed world of diplomacy when he said on Monday that foreign fighters from Central Asia and the Middle East orchestrated an “attempted coup” and that it was about of “terrorists”. “I have no doubt that it is a terrorist attack”, he blurted out before outbidding: the objective of the rioters “appeared clearly: to undermine the constitutional order, to destroy the institutions of governance and take power. ” The Tokayev method seems close to that applied by Vladimir Putin in the face of opposition in Russia.

UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights in the context of the fight against terrorism, Fionnuala Ni Aolain said on Tuesday that the use of the term “terrorists” in connection with civil society activists, human rights defenders, journalists and political parties, aims to “instill fear and is of great concern”. The use of the term undermines “the security of all”, adds the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose experts stress that “the generalized obstacles to freedom of expression and assembly based on terrorism are absolutely contrary to the strict provisions of international law ”.

Also read: Former UN director Geneva set to become Kazakhstan’s new president

The Kazakh authoritarian power arrested nearly 10,000 people. Among them, a number of journalists. He noted that 1,600 members of the security forces were injured and 16 killed. The former senior UN official, very loyal to the autocrat Nazarbayev about whom he wrote a biography, also surprised by ordering the police to fire live ammunition at the crowd. Result: more than 160 dead among anti-government protesters. According to the head of state, the economic damage from the riots could amount to up to three billion dollars.

Political scientist and professor emeritus at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Daniel Warner, who was once invited to the dacha of diplomat Tokayev in Astana, is the first surprised: “He is a discreet character, not very warm, but who has a fine knowledge of international relations. I am amazed that he gave such an order to shoot. ”

Finally read: Kazakhstan riots skyrocket

Warned diplomat

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had succeeded, as a diplomat, then prime minister and foreign minister, in establishing fairly good relations with three unlikely partners, Russia, China and the United States, thus attempting to maintain an independent foreign policy. He had played a fundamental role in ensuring that his country, holding a nuclear arsenal at the time of the break-up of the USSR which made it the 4th largest nuclear power in the world, dismantled this arsenal and its Semipalatinsk site. He had also succeeded in quickly convincing the international community to recognize the new independent state.

The events of the past few days reveal what many experts see as a turnaround that could chill Astana’s relations with the West. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has invited Russian troops under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a multilateral alliance led by Moscow, to come and help restore order to the country’s streets.

Today, the Kazakh president promises a withdrawal of Russian troops. In Washington, where we measure the strategic importance of Kazakhstan, rich in hydrocarbons and minerals, we call for the rapid withdrawal of Russian soldiers, but we avoid adopting a tone too harsh towards Astana.

Finally on Tuesday, Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev distanced himself from his mentor Nazarbaïev (81 years old) to whom he had been faithful for a very long time. He accused him of having allowed “the emergence of a caste of very profitable societies, of very rich people.” He urges them to contribute to a fund from which Kazakh citizens should benefit. In addition, one of Narzabayev’s close allies, the head of the secret service Karim Massimov, was sacked on Saturday for treason.

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